Reason vs Violence in ‘The Thing From Another World!’

The Thing From Another World has held up quite well. This film would go on to inspired directors and filmmakers such as Wilbur Stark and Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. to recreate the science fiction classic. This 1951 film worked within the limitations of RKO’s budget and of the technology of the time. Fortunately, the film’s limitations don’t stifle its quality.

Our story begins when scientists at the North Pole outpost discover evidence that an unknown flying craft has crashed in their vicinity. At the request of their chief scientist Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) a United States Air Force crew is dispatched to help investigate.

The Discovery

The crew and scientists fly to the crash site where the mysterious craft lies buried beneath the frozen ice. As they spread out to outline the craft’s shape, the men realize they are standing in a perfect circle; they have discovered a crashed flying saucer. They attempt to unearth the craft using thermite heat bombs only to ignite the space vessel’s metal alloy, causing an explosion that destroys it entirely. Fortunately, not all is lost.

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They excavate a large block of ice around what appears to be a tall body and fly it to the research outpost, just as a major storm moves in, cutting off their communications. Some of the scientists want to thaw out the body and study the visitor but Captain Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) demands they all wait until he receives further instructions from his superiors.

Captin Hendry has his men watch over the block of ice in cycles. During Corporal Barnes’ (William Self) watch, he covers the ice with a blanket left by the previous guard to avoid looking at the body within. However, to our comedic surprise, Barnes is unaware that it is an electric blanket and that it is still plugged in. As the ice slowly melts, ‘The Thing’ is set free.

The alien escapes into the raging storm but is attacked by sled dogs and the airmen recover a severed arm. Upon examination, it is discovered that the tissue of the visitor has more in common with a plant than an animal. This scene among others is a key example of the filmmaker’s use of overlapping dialogue. During the film, characters talk over each other and interrupt one another giving the dialogue an organic feel. This advanced plant creature is also discovered to sustain itself on a diet of animal blood Now the scientists and Air Force officials must fend of this bloodthirsty visitor in order to survive!

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Behind The Scenes

 NED “SCOTTY” SCOTT: 
An intellectual carrot. The mind boggles.
James Arness reportedly regarded his role as ‘The Thing’ as embarrassing. In fact, Arness was so ashamed of his role in the project that he didn’t even bother to attend the premiere.The 6’6 actor also complained that his costume for ‘The Thing’ made him look like a giant carrot. James Arness wasn’t the only one on set who was underwhelmed by the makeup and costume design of ‘The Thing.’ It took make-up artist Lee Greenway five months to create a design that satisfied producer Howard Hawks. Unfortunately for Greenway all of his hard work was seemingly for nothing. Scenes which included close-up shots of  ‘The Thing’ were removed from the final cut because the filmmakers felt that the makeup wouldn’t hold up under close scrutiny. However, the lack of close-ups shots of the creature has the effect of giving ‘The Thing’ a mysterious quality.
The scene in which ‘The Thing’ is doused with kerosene and set on fire is believed to be the first full body burn accomplished by a stuntman. The fact that the Arness’ stuntman didn’t burn alive was pure luck. James Arness was replaced by his stunt double Tom Steele in the fire scene. Steele wore an asbestos suit with a special fiberglass helmet with an oxygen supply underneath. The air supply used was one hundred percent oxygen, and I am certain everyone is aware that oxygen is highly combustible. So many things could’ve gone wrong with this body burn that it is short of miraculous that nothing did go wrong.
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Under The Microscope

Like many other 1950’s films ‘The Thing From Another World’ provides us with a telling snapshot of the Cold-War paranoia that affected post World War II America. The conflict between Hendry and Carrington is a battle between force and reason which parallels the political dilemma of the time. Should America face its Soviet adversaries through military confrontation or approach them diplomatically? Throughout the film, Dr. Carrington pushes for the visitor to be kept alive and to be left unharmed despite the clear and present threat the creature posed to them. “There are no enemies in science, only phenomena to be studied,” said Carrington who continued to value the life of the creature above the safety of his staff and that of the Air Force crew. “Knowledge is more important than life,” he truly believed that ‘The Thing’ which everyone else saw as no more than an animal was a superior being. “No pleasure, no pain…no emotion, no heart. Our superior in every way…Its development was not handicapped by emotional or sexual factors.”
That’s right folks! The man believes and murderous, asexual man carrot is a superior life form. Joking aside when the dilemma between reason and force is paralleled with Cold War tension things begin to take a different tone. The alien visitor is always an allegory for the “other.” During the 1950’s the “others” are more likely than not communists. With that perspective considered its no wonder why the writers decided to create a movie where the Air Force Officials are heroes and the intellectual no more than a madman. I urge you to watch this film yourself and in the words of reporter Ned Scott (Douglas Spencer) “Keep watching the skies!”
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